In 1986, when I started officially homeschooling my first child, homeschooling was different from the way it is now; no free downloadable resources, no used homeschool curricula, in fact, no homeschool curricula at all! What we had were resources written for Christian schools, or for public schools.
I drove hours to attend the yearly State Homeschool conference and not being much interested in the lectures which were given by former classroom teachers, mainly spent my time in the Exhibit Hall. This is where the resources were, where I joined the ranks of other stoller-pushing mothers with babies strapped on their backs, all of us trying to evaluate, in this precious once-yearly opportunity, all the materials available. It was a high-pressure situation; I hated to spend money without actually seeing the books I was considering, but how to see it all? And how, in all that crowd and confusion, to even process what I was seeing?
How amazing it is to me that you can now attend a homeschool conference from your home! With speakers who actually homeschooled! And that there are resources on nearly every subject written by, and for, homeschoolers!
Well, that’s what Homeschool Summits is; far beyond anything I could have imagined, far beyond wonderful, in fact! An opportunity to hear seasoned homeschool teachers (ie; parents) give advice, recommendations, and encouragement, and to learn about resources created for people just like you.
As we watch historic landmarks disappear, as the stories which make up our history disappear, it is more than ever up to us homeschool moms to preserve the truths of the past by teaching them to our children. And this makes me want to buy history books; I imagine you feel the same way.
The history picture books of author/illustrator Cheryl Harness don’t seem to have attracted the attention of the providers of homeschool curriculum, with the exception of Three Young Pilgrims (which I reviewed earlier.) Some of them are published by National Geographic, which is a cause of concern, but trying to be openminded, I ordered a couple. I loved them. Then a couple more. Ditto. Some I didn’t order because I could tell that she and I weren’t going to be in agreement on that topic…like her bio of Hillary Clinton. I guess she’s on a journey like the rest of us…
But the following four of her titles would make up a very good unit study on the War for American Independence. It seems appropriate to start with the man who was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” George Washington.
I have read several Washington biographies, and if they had had the maps and sidebar notes of Harness’ George Washington, it would have saved me a lot of time looking things up! Harness’s book is factually accurate and engagingly written, but best of all, as with all her books, is the lively and interesting way it is illustrated. The maps and explanatory notes really help draw the reader in and show what is going on.
The Revolutionary John Adams, is another book I’d recommend highly. While it complements what you read in George Washington, it gives another side of the story. John Adams was a Boston lawyer, member of the committee which wrote the Declaration of Independence, member of congress, President of the United States, and much more. He was a student of law and a lawmaker, while George Washington was a Virginia planter who became Commander in Chief of the army. They were entirely different kinds of men, with different backgrounds, and different roles to play in the great drama.
And entirely different from both was Benjamin Franklin, a Philadelphia printer and inventor who played a very important role in our country’s history. He is said to have been the most famous man in the world during his lifetime, and in The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin we read the story of his life as a publisher, printer, and inventor, diplomat and statesman, richly illustrated with Harness’ award-winning paintings and maps.
Next is Cheryl Harness’ Thomas Jefferson. In addition to being the author of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was also a farmer, lawyer, scientist, architect, inventor, musician, diplomat, third President of the United States, and promotor of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Louisiana purchase. The book also discusses the big contradiction of Jefferson’s life: how could the man who wrote that “all men are created equal” actually own slaves himself?
Young John Quincy adds still another perspective – that of a boy during the time of the Revolutionary War. And he was not just any boy; John Quincy Adams was the son of John Adams who was a patriot, statesman, diplomat and President. Living near Boston as they did, young John Quincy shows us what it might have been like grow up there at the “cradle of liberty” during the Colonial and Revolutionary years.
It may seem that five books on one subject is unnecessary, but the way these five titles tell different sides of this very important story – the story of our country’s struggle to be free – makes it all much more understandable and interesting.
My good friend Kaitlyn introduced me to the Sasek books; the interesting, informative text and quirky, fun, vintage art quickly elevated them to the “favorites” category.
She very kindly wrote this review for us:
There may come a day when Times Square is just a field, or when Venice follows Atlantis into the sea. It is sad to think about things like that when they have become near and dear to you, and the world has spun around assuming they will always be there. It makes you want to have something to hold to remind you of what it was like. And I can think of no better way to commemorate the wonderful places in the world than with the forgotten treasure of M. Sasek.
Miroslav Sasek was a Czech immigrant who traveled the world in the 1960s, and captured through illustration the sights, sounds, and smells of what he saw. What was produced was a set of books that transport you to a place you will want to return to.
In the books of the This Is… series, one can watch street performers entertaining the bus queue in London, or wear the “world’s most uncomfortable shoes” while visiting Neiman Marcus in Dallas. Eat some Haggis on a rainy day in Edinburgh, or stare down Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. All while surrounded by art that is a combination of watercolor, doodle, and scrapbook in fun vintage colors.
The books are informational, casual, humorous, and cleverly written. Sasek wove his topics together seamlessly, just as you would see them while walking the streets, occasionally making a witty comparison, whether in writing such as in This Is New York:
“In New York fire strikes frequently — and so do people.”
Or in art. See if you can catch it in these pages taken from This Is Rome:
There is always plenty of interesting information, without being overwhelming, and tidbits of history. The books were originally published in the 1960s, but were re-published in 2007, so there are asterisks printed next to facts throughout the book, and in the back there is a small paragraph titled, “This is… Today!”, and has updated facts. (At least, as updated as 2007).
The books were meant for children, but wanderlusters of all ages will love traveling the world with Mr. M. Sasek.
During the months since I started thinking about reviewing this book the world has changed. We’re now seeing something even worse than the historical revisionism this book is about: historical erasure. But this book is also about unearthing lost truths; something very relevant to today.
(By the way, this review was written by a friend to whom I gave the book, as part of a letter, which I’ve kindly been given permission to post.)
Hello again, Mother B,
I wanted to write you a short note thanking for your enthusiastic and persistent recommendation of “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey. I just finished it yesterday. I have seldom heard you plug a book so frequently (and you plug books with abandon), but I see that every ounce of enthusiasm was justified. Who knew that the research process could make such a captivating subject for a novel? I could never have conceived of a fascinating novel about someone laid up in bed.
The premise is great-a police inspector with gobs of free time finds his fascination with faces gets him second-guessing the character of a historical black sheep. The author uses the scenario really well: Grant gets a random sampling of public opinion on Richard right there at his bedside. It contrasts with his unfolding discoveries. He has enough time to delve deeply into sources since he hasn’t got anything better to do while laid up with a broken leg. The hunt for the truth breathes new purpose into his life and into that of his friend, “The Sheep.” They illustrate how satisfying it is to “search out a matter”.
There were a couple points that were particularly memorable. Towards the end of the book, Carradine and Grant discuss the human bias against having settled facts corrected. They speculate about why this is. I think it’s because it’s too humbling. It’s too hard to admit that I—not an undiscerning sort—have been duped, right along with thousands of other honest, sensible, people. And if something so established as Richard III’s villainy is a mere fabrication, what else could be? For that matter, what couldn’t be? Are we sure that James Madison authored the Constitution? Did Christopher Columbus really discover America?* Once open, the door to skepticism is hard to shut.
In raising this dilemma, the book is extremely relevant. Everyone everywhere has to decide which information to trust or whom to trust for information. Or whether or not to question the things they’ve always taken for granted. Or when to jump ship from their preferred news platform. Or whether to hang on and plunge headlong into impassioned defenses of the truly ridiculous. Stop ones’ ears or reconsider? Learn to think, even if it means reconsidering settled fact? (i.e. “settled facts” that earth is being destroyed by humans and President Trump is a racists, etc, etc).
I’ve found myself thinking about how difficult it is to promote truth and honesty in research. It’s a lot of work! It requires care and sense of personal responsibility for the truth. How could so many historians and textbook authors unwittingly perpetuate a false narrative? How could so many editors re-print unsubstantiated accusations against public figures? I would like to be a careful researcher and faithful witness, but it’s going to require sacrifice. The same goes for tricky life situations, layered with hearsay and unsubstantiated evidence. Can I value the truth enough to be careful with it?
Another thing: Grant isn’t exactly in quarantine, but close. If he lived in 2020, would he have just watched Netflix instead? How many historical mysteries are not being untangled right now?
Well, you probably get the idea that I liked the book.
This Homeschool Summit is a free week-long event coming April 6-10, 2020 designed to help you focus on God’s simple plan for family discipleship, and to encourage you in your quest to raise children who love God and others.
The 25 speakers featured in the video sessions will focus on five key topics:
Foundations: Start things off right, from your own self-discipline to unity with your spouse on your family’s mission
Child Training: Reach the heart of your children with Gospel-motivated love, truth, and consistency
Relationships: Pursue healthy conflict resolution and friendships between parents and siblings
Challenges: Navigate feeling overwhelmed, child rebellion, use of media and technology – with a biblical perspective
Launch: Leverage the power of discipleship to propel young adults into marriage, work, and a life of service to Christ
The entire event is free if you sign up by April 6th, and in addition to the video sessions, you’ll also get access to an online exhibit hall (with exclusive discounts and freebies), daily devotions for the whole family to gather and start things off in God’s Word, and a private Facebook group to connect with speakers and other attendees.
My hope is that you’ll walk away from the Homeschool Parenting Summit with renewed hope and a vision for how to disciple your family into a wholehearted love of God.
Learn more and register for free (for a limited time only!) here.
The year 1966 marked the anniversary of one of the most important events in English History: the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman invasion, events which changed life in England forever. But 1966 was also the 40th anniversary of another event, much less important, but one which changed the lives of many children forever. It was the anniversary of the publication of Winnie the Pooh.
In honor of this anniversary, the illustrator of Winnie the Pooh, Ernest Shepard, was asked to create a design for a book bag. Mr. Shepard, by then 87 years old, came up with this design, wonderfully commemorating both events, which just shows that people really do get smarter as they get older. He lived another ten years, too.
The design is based on the Bayeux Tapestry, which the Bishop of Odo commissioned in 1070 to commemorate his half-brother, William’s conquest of England in 1066. It is wonderful, too, and worthy is study.
The Homeschool Teaching Summit 2.0 this March 2-6, 2020 will bring you exclusive, Christ-centered encouragement, parenting help, and homeschool-life-balance guidance from 25 top speakers — all for absolutely FREE, available anywhere online: HomeschoolSummits.com/Teaching.
Once again I am honored to be a speaker on their upcoming Online Summit . I’ll be speaking on “Teaching Children to Teach Themselves.”
I was introduced to this book by my young friend and fellow bibliophile Kaitlyn, who kindly wrote this review of it for us.
“If someone asked me to find a children’s book on how to start a business, I probably wouldn’t think such a thing existed, and if I did, I wouldn’t think to look for a picture book, but that is precisely what Once Upon a Company is.
It’s a true story about the author’s three young children who took their holiday break boredom, and did something productive, fun, and beautiful. The book is written from the point of view of the author’s son, Joel. When he was seven he and his two sisters started a company making wreaths and selling them to neighbors, saving the money for college. They found that they liked running a business, so the next summer they opened a lemonade stand at an art fair.
Joel and his sisters ran into various difficulties, but through some ingenious problem-solving, perseverance, and elbow grease they managed to succeed in starting several successful small businesses.
One great thing about this book is it’s a disguised trove of business terms and phrases. Each one is written in capitol letters, and defined in a glossary in the back of the book. Which makes this book not just a fun story, but very educational too.
Another aspect of the story that I really love is how their family works. The kids own the business together, their mom and dad teach and pitch in, the grandparents do the same. Their aunts and uncles make connections for them and suggest next steps. Working at the lemonade stand looks so fun they start “acquiring” new employees. Then they opened up a wreath shop in town, and little by little, the whole community begins to get involved in the little business. It’s a beautiful picture of what can happen when people are excited about what they do.
Though Once Upon a Company glorifies college somewhat – The College Fund Wreath Company is their company’s name -it has a refreshing attitude toward education. The kids want to learn, and they want to work. One big message in the book is, “Work can be fun!”
This is an excellent book, and one I’d recommend for all ages; it’s a heartwarming story, educational, and inspiring. Sadly, it’s out of print, but there are used copies available.
Elizabeth and Mary, Cousins, Rivals, Queens, by Jane Dunn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003
When people make foolish life decisions it’s usually a matter of years before all the fall-out is obvious, a course of events we want our daughters to avoid, of course. That’s why you may want your older daughters to read this book: because reading about someone else’s mistakes is much smarter than making your own.
However, because these queens were not storybook princesses, but real, flesh-and-blood women, Elizabeth and Mary covers some material not found in books on the Homeschool Mom’s usual approved reading list. Stuff like sexual desire, infidelity, and murder, so I hesitated long and hard before writing this review. But as it doesn’t talk about anything the Bible doesn’t, and doesn’t talk about any of it explicitly, salaciously or gratuitously, I decided to go for it.
Comparing the upbringing and outcomes of these two famous queen’s lives, Elizabeth and Mary is history, not historical fiction. It reads almost like a cautionary tale, for if there was ever a princess who threw caution to the wind, followed her heart, and crashed and burned, it was Mary, Queen of Scots. And if there was ever a princess who denied her own desires, used her head, sought and followed wise counsel even when it ran counter to her own wishes, and lived a long and successful life, it was Elizabeth.
This book is about historical figures who lived in a time and place far removed from our own, yet it’s personal enough and relatable enough to be interesting even to older teen-aged girls. Boys could profit from reading it too, but most probably aren’t interested in books about princesses.
In addition to showing what happens when a person makes foolish decisions, or wise ones – and you see the results in days rather than years – Elizabeth and Mary introduces the reader to several of the major players of the Reformation: Henry VIII, Charles V, Catherine de Medici, Phillip II, and John Knox (though he’s not presented very sympathetically.)
But the best part is the example set by the young Elizabeth. Growing up in the treacherous atmosphere of the English court (especially dangerous for her as a teenager when her Catholic half-sister, Bloody Mary, was on the throne) she learned that working hard at her studies, keeping her eyes open, her mouth shut, and avoiding interaction with the wrong people was her best means to ultimate success.
My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George, 1959, Dutton
Perhaps this is one of those “blemished” books because I don’t know that homeschoolers recommend it much. I wonder if that’s because it is usually described as the story of a boy who ran away from home. (Which is why it almost didn’t get published.) Well, the main character, Sam Gribley, did leave home, but it turns out his parents knew where he was and they let him do it.
My Side of the Mountain is another of my favorite books from childhood. And as I reread it recently I found it just as delightful as I did 50 years ago, and loved it as much as I did 30+ years ago when I read it to my children, who also loved it.
In my review of Swiss Family Robinson I mentioned a genre of fiction I have dubbed “scientific fiction.” Like historical fiction only based on science. This book might just go in that category.
Sam Gribley was a boy who lived with his large family in a crowded New York City apartment. He left home, with his parents’ knowledge and permission, to see if he could live off the land on his great-grandfather’s homestead in the Catskill Mountains. The difficulties he faced – finding a place to live, finding food, making clothes for himself – and his ways of overcoming them, make for a great story.
And it’s a very educational story; in it you find yourself learning about all kinds of wild foods, how to get them, and how to cook them. Freshwater mussels, cat tails, spring beauties, dandelions, crayfish, Jack in the Pulpit, puffballs, watercress…the list goes on and on. The book shows how to build traps for rabbits and deer, how to tan the deerskins, how to make salt from hickory bark… Sam’s neighbors are a duck hawk he caught and tamed, named “Frightful,” a weasel, raccoons, flying squirrels, as well as the more common birds.
And Sam succeeds in his mission – he makes it through the winter, successfully living off the land. But in the end he lets himself be found, realizing that he misses the company of human beings.
But, some gentle readers will ask, is it a Christian book? Well, that depends on how you figure it. I came across a biography once called Mary Todd Lincoln – the Christian. Turns out the author categorized her as a Christian because of the frequent use of God’s name in Mrs. Lincoln’s letters. Hmmm…if that makes someone a Christian there are a lot of them on the internet.
Well, the Bible says we judge a person by his fruit. So for Sam Gribley what do we get? There’s no profession of faith, no mention of praying. However, like the majority of people a couple generations ago, Sam does appear to have a Christian Worldview: he appears to love and honor his parents, has a high regard for the truth, doesn’t steal, and is hospitable.
My Side of the Mountain is a book I think anyone would enjoy and learn from, and it’s a book that doesn’t require any editing of language or bad attitudes. It’s one of the few works of fiction I’d pass as entirely safe to hand to a child to read to himself. But it’s a lot more fun to read it aloud and enjoy it together!
There are two sequels, written much later, which to me, lack the charm of this first book. I’m not going to review them; I don’t want to reread them.